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The Queer Tale of the Magician’s Cabinet - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
The Queer Tale of the Magician’s Cabinet

The Queer Tale of the Magician’s Cabinet



Being a series of epistolary extracts from the Wimsey Papers at Denver, for the year 1895


Editor’s note: These excerpts are offered in further explanation of the events chronicled by Dr Watson as ‘The Adventure of the Malfoy Animagus’, which it will assist the reader to have read before. 



The Dowager Duchess of Medway to Honoria Lucasta, Duchess of Denver


My dear Honoria,


I have read with dismay your letter of the 15th ultimo.  Child, you must consider that, when your mother-in-law – quite the silliest woman I have ever had the misfortune to know, not excepting Selina Bradford and that young woman Attenbury’s marrying – looks at you as Balaam must have looked at his ass, it is you who are Balaam: she is and has always been a woman of unexampled fatuousness.  Of course the woman thinks young Denver can do no wrong: Mary resolutely refused to countenance the most unanswerable evidence of her late husband’s follies, and she is hardly likely to condemn in the son those faults she refused to see in the father.  She managed always nevertheless to meet her duties when a house-party descended upon her, although what she told herself she was doing in arranging the usual assignments of bedrooms I should not at all care to imagine.


The fact is, men are inherently tiresome.  Your brother, for one, does not live in Paris wholly for his health and for the greater convenience in his taking pleasure: there are, as you perfectly well know, whole districts in Hants in which he is well-advised not to be seen (I may instance St Mary Mead, for one).  Paul is not only seeking convenience in Paris, he is preserving, with rather more tact and discretion than one might have expected, the convenances.  If Denver will insist upon undertaking the duties of the parish bull, which are after all hereditary and instinctive in the man, simply remember that you at least are of an order higher than the beasts of the field that perish.  In these thin and piping times, child, other and well-trodden – in both senses – avenues of redress are barred to you young women, as they certainly were not in my day, although I must say that Sunny Marlborough’s Yankee aunt by marriage appears intent upon being as rackety as I and Mirabelle Severn were in our gloriously misspent youths.  I can only deplore her failure to accept the correspondent necessity of arranging these things discreetly.  Men needn’t be discreet, even now; we wanted to be, even when I was young.


As I have been so frank, I must go on to face a subject you shall doubtless wish to bury, but which I think must be what drives Mary’s frantic insistence, not merely upon not seeing, but in not acknowledging, the plain evidence of her senses.  I have said that men don’t want to be discreet in their amours, but you must of course realise that there are limits even upon that weaker and less intelligent sex.  (Yes, less intelligent: boars and bulls, my dear, are not, after all, clever.)  No doubt it is cruel of me to advert you to your mother-in-law’s Deathly stare when the subject is broached (one cannot help a surname, but Mary really does want not to make it so easy to mock her, although I suppose it should be rather worse were she to have become whimsical upon her marriage), yet you must have seen that the silly hen is made quite frantically frozen by any allusion to her husband’s scandal.  The man swore to his dying day that he had been mistaken for someone else, and I expect it’s quite true, as it hardly fits his known tastes, which were all for opulence; the fact remains, that, as the recent ghastly mess shows, boy-buggery is simply beyond the pale in Society.  The penny-papers are once more raking up Somerset and the Cleveland Street Scandal (and the past five years have been extremely vexing for the Turf: say what you like about Arthur, he did a brilliant job as the head of the Heir Apparent’s stables): with the folly of the man Wilde’s suit against that brute Queensberry, Rosebery is walking warily (Drumlanrig is fortunate in his being dead a year and beyond questioning, and I rather think the Primrose Peer may be fortunate in the fact as well), and there’s sure to be a smash over Lord Alfred.  Euston sued for libel, and got clear; Denver’s father was saved from that risky expedient by his agent.  Can you wonder then that the prospective reappearance of that agent, Mr Sherlock Holmes, should cause Mary to freeze all ’round like a basilisk?


My dear child, consider.  My set in my generation were permitted lenity within a strict discretion: this is not to your taste, nor apt to your times.  Mary is precisely the sort of silly woman who invariably assumes the worst of everyone whilst at the same time refusing to admit the possibility: naturally she torments herself by fearing that her late duke was guilty of an infamous crime – which is ridiculous, given his quite notorious preferences – even as she refuses to admit his known indiscretions.  You must not follow her example, in any way.  You, my dear, are, if I may say so without offence, County yourself, to your four long bones, with all the virtues of that heritage, which has made England great: dignified, church-going, and respectable.  Rackety old women – such as dear Mirabelle and me – are not your pattern.  Nevertheless, you, and not poor Mary, are the duchess now.  You must comport yourself in accord with the station to which you have been called.  And after all, neither the late duke’s follies, let alone those which he did not commit and that no-one but that fool Mary believes him to have committed, nor Denver’s tiresome and tireless polygamy, are anything to do with you, and you mustn’t permit them to disturb your air of studied serenity.  At the very least you can be comforted in that Denver’s indiscretions are perfectly healthy: in this mean and petty age, and with the example of Somerset and Douglas obtruded upon the mob’s attention, that is no small consolation.  In any event, I implore that you not hesitate at any time to bring your troubles to your affectionate and constant friend,


Lettyce Medway



Mirabelle, Countess of Severn and Thames, to Honoria Lucasta, Duchess of Denver


My dear Honoria,


I trust that you have had solid, if cynical, advice from Lettyce Medway.  I can quite guess the tenor of it, as it is precisely what I should advise: smile, however you must clench your teeth to do so, and treat what is beneath contempt as being beneath your notice.  As I cannot but think that Lettyce must have told you, Society just now is rather relieved than otherwise to hear of a perfectly natural scandal, with all this unnaturalness being exposed to the gaze of the lower orders.  (You must admit it was wise of Sir Junius Impey to have declined a brief in the late trials, and I for one shan’t be at all surprised should his nephew, the Biggs lad, turn out to be of the same kidney: already, at the age of perhaps eight years, the lad bids fair to be as remotely beautiful as his name-sake, and as devoid of any appeal to – or towards – women.)


To this advice, which I make sure is that which you shall have had already from Lettyce, I can only add that your revenge is best effected through shaping young Gerald and Peter, insofar as one can shape Peter, who seems a frightfully self-possessed child, to be better men than and standing reproaches to their father and grandfather – although I cannot imagine that such a course, or indeed my advice, is at all likely to please you.  My other bit of advice is rather the simpler.  You have cultivated already the persona of the duchess of Malaprop; I can only urge that you not allow your natural features to mould wholly to the mask, which, I need hardly say, you may always put aside to speak frankly to your loving friend,


Mirabelle Severn and Thames




Honoria Lucasta, Duchess of Denver, to Mirabelle, Countess of Severn and Thames


My dear Mirabelle,


I am unspeakably obliged to you and to Lettyce Medway for your support.  As you foresaw, the whole wretched business we were dreading was inverted!  Mr Holmes – I suppose he is entitled to the honorific, as he is a University man from a gentry family, although it seems an odd thing in a gentleman to take up police-court work, although I suppose there to be any number of people who are grateful that he has done so, even persons in our own walk of life – has not after all been down, sending instead that discreet medical man, I hear, and in any event, it was nothing to do with us – for which I hope I am properly thankful. 


I had quite forgotten that a recusant family in the district, County to be sure but poor as church-mice, if the Romans have church-mice, had recently repaired here; I don’t mean that they are incomers, but the senior line had died out a few years before and the estate came into the hands of the cadets, a very pleasant family by all accounts, who had been living in Essex: some place called Cobbling or Grimling Hole (or am I thinking of kobolds?) or something of the sort.  In any event, they have been living quite peaceably in the district, and very well-respected insofar as country people can respect papists, of whom they are always a trifle suspicious, you know – it quite helps that the elder son is an ornament of the local XI, although this is countered somewhat by the younger, a very clever and pleasant fellow who goes to school somewhere no-one’s ever heard of and is said to be destined for their clergy, which seems a pity, as he is quite clever, although rather small and snub-nosed, a Norfolk dumpling (or Essex turnip, I suppose, as he was born before the family removed to Norfolk), and I suppose, given the Wimsey nose, which Peter has so unfortunately got although not Gerald, poor dear, I shouldn’t say anything – even so, not at all the sort of appearance one should wish in a beneficed clergyman of the Established Church and hardly likely to command a wife, which is so necessary to a vicarage or a rectory, although he is a manly enough fellow, the younger son, I mean, although of course the elder is also – and I cannot imagine what breath of scandal or crime could attach to the family, and, really, it appears rather to be, from what one can make out, a case of intrusion or burglary – some trifling personal effects, I understand – although it must be admitted that some of the country people suspect them of deep criminality simply because they are popish, which is silly, really, as people can’t help their religion, I suppose.  The most common rumour is that there’s something odd about their accession to the estate, which seems unlikely, as they were by all accounts living no worse in Essex than here and there’s not a title attached or anything of value, and I do think it rash to leave cadets with a possibility of succession in ignorance of the estate, really, as the Baskervilles so foolishly did (I am told that young Sir Henry has returned to England after his voyage almost wholly recovered from those dreadful incidents), although I suppose it wouldn’t at all do to have them too near, salivating over their expectorations expectations (although Sir Charles Baskerville and his heir were, now I come to think of it, in danger from a designing claimant from overseas); but I trust the rumours will die away soon enough, as whatever the matter was, it seems that Mr Holmes and Dr Watson have settled it without a stain on the Brown escutcheon (the papistical family’s name is Brown, without even an ‘e’ on the end, which is pleasingly plain, I think, although they are I believe connexions of the Belchesters and the Sandertons, I gather, who are the last word in pretension, really), and why people persist in looking askew at Roman Catholics when one considers that that appalling poacher Merryweather, for one, is a vociferous churchman on Sundays although leading the keepers a devilish dance six days a week, I cannot conceive! 


I fear I have imposed upon your patience, dear Mirabelle, but you and Lettyce have been my props and bucklers and I felt you should have the assurance that the whole storm that seemed likely to break has died away, with but a single shower, that occurring when dear little Peter incautiously told his grandmother that he intended upon securing Mr Holmes’ services in finding his stuffed bear, which has unaccountably disappeared!  Yet although he is somewhat disgraced in her eyes, I make quite certain that Peter, and Gerald, and indeed that dear old booby Denver, join me in sending this news with much love and gratitude from your ever-affectionate friend,


Honoria Denver







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6 comments or Leave a comment
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Such a lovely addition to the story, and I love the details you've woven in throughout. Delightfully tart and with the perfect amount of sharp wit. Perfect, dear, and I couldn't help but laugh at the idea of little Peter wanting Holmes to find his bear. Brilliant.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Ta, love.

Mind, the stuffed bear is DLS' own Holmesian pastiche, as tree reminded me last week (and I annexed it immediately).
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 21st, 2010 10:36 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Ta, love.

Brilliant! I should read Lord Wimsey, shouldn't I? Noe's always telling me I'd like Sayers, but for some reason I just haven't done it yet. /0\
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)

Do not delay further.

Lord Peter is indispensable.
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Above rubies, before swine

The fact is, men are inherently tiresome. Your brother, for one, does not live in Paris wholly for his health Could I laugh harder at this? Not if I intend to breathe afterward.

V nice reference to Jenny Jerome C. And 'Deathly stare'? Lovely.

I adore Lettyce and Mirabelle and their misspent youths and their cynical counsel, and Honoria is beautifully vague and yet detailled in her way.

I shall echo the joy at Peter and the bear. Priceless.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 10:16 am (UTC) (Link)

I'm greatly obliged.

The future dowager duchess is always irresistible.
6 comments or Leave a comment